Engineering

Students Get Kicks on Route 66

A multimedia graduate thesis project that uses a Volkswagen Bug, a Nintendo Wii, and three Google programs could just help renew interest in preserving what's left of Route 66. The project is the effort of three design students at California State University, East Bay in Hayward. When it's completed in June 2010, the students will roll out a retrofitted 1969 VW with two windshield-mounted computer monitors that let users navigate through 3D recreations of the historic highway between Chicago and Los Angeles with photos, maps, audio, and video clips.

Each design student brings a different perspective and skill set to the project. Marc Meyer once owned a VW Bug and lived in Flagstaff, AZ, where he drove along Route 66 every day to Northern Arizona University where he earned his undergraduate degree. Meyer's role on the project includes developing the 3D world in Google Earth and SketchUp, programming and coding, co-authoring the narrative on videos, and audio and video editing.

Tina Lai, the technology expert behind the project, focuses on enabling people to interact with technology without the use of the traditional mouse and keyboard.

Ann King traveled all over Northern California and Nevada searching for old iconic signs to include in her undergraduate senior project, "Signs of the Past Today." For this project she's served as primary photographer and has done cold-calling to businesses and associations to drum up support and donations. That includes trying to find the VW Bug. The car that serves as the primary interface came from a restorer who donated it to the program. A Cal State East Bay alumnus who runs a local auto body shop donated a paint job for the Bug in the university's signature color, East Bay Red.

Although much of the original Route 66 has been abandoned or subsumed into other roads, users who "drive" along the route in this project will be using a modified version of Google's game, Monster Milktruck. The program lets the player cruise around images generated by Google Earth in a 3D milk truck. In the Route 66 version when the user reaches key geographic points, video and archival images appear, inviting interaction. The horn will cease the interactivity and get the driver back on the route.

"We are very excited about this project and hope it can contribute to the ongoing interest in historic Route 66 as a vital part of our American heritage," the students wrote on the project's blog.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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